And I bow as I step onto the dance floor, and the strings strain, and the bodies around us move. Bodies of abusers and saviors. Rose dances with Olsen, Destiny with Tiger. The music plays, we all twirl, and I take each of the next stories out onto the floor. The waltz is the most proper. The waltz has the arms wide, the circle, the spinning. The waltz doesn’t pull in close and breathe in the ear like I do with my wife. The waltz doesn’t get “tangled up and tango on.” The waltz holds back. It looks into the eye, holds at a distance, and the waltz appraises. The waltz appreciates.
There’s a scream across the battlefield as a hundred thousand warriors of bullies and abusers roar hatred in my direction. The Round Table lines up behind me. They bang sword on shield. You are about to read about the women standing along my side. They form the front ranks now. And when the horns blow and I collide with my abusers, it will be The Shieldmaidens waltzing with my enemies and dancing beside me as the blood and the hate flies.
I introduce you now to the women of my life and my past. I introduce you now to The Shieldmaidens.
How do I even begin to write this chapter? How do I thank her, do justice to her, and show you what she was to me with this set of words I will put down now?
Heart was a force in my life three times. She came to me three times when I was in need. She was just dropped down into my life to save it. Let’s try to figure out all the ways that she was there for me and shaped the man I am. Let’s start with a Silver Camaro.
Bruise brought her to my house when I was in seventh grade, maybe eighth, but I think it was seventh. He showed up with his leather jacket, might have been denim, and sat down in front of a frowning Rose. Within a few minutes he was one of her favorite people. He just had a way of doing that with people back then. He was charismatic and dark. He was loud and thoughtful, and one day he showed up with Heart.
Heart is tall and she towered over Bruise, but he could pull it off. She wore the hair just like the eighties told her to. She had the makeup and the boots and the fuck you attitude that you can’t teach.
Her dad had once seen her marching around the house and wanted her to walk more like a lady, so he enrolled her in modeling classes, and it paid off. She knows how to enter a room. She knows how to turn heads, and she knows how to conduct herself like a lady.
Stick around for the next part for sure, but Heart was all lady when she walked into my mother’s house that day. Maybe lady is strong. Imagine feminine badass bitch and you will hit the mark.
She is hilarious, with a sharp wit and sharper tongue. And within minutes of my mother frowning at her, Heart was accepted. Now I think that Rose kinda secretly hated Heart for dating Bruise. My theory is that Rose missed the image and the attitude of Bramble so much that when she saw Bruise, a part of her wanted to get in that Camaro with him and ride off like the devil was chasing them, which was the only way he knew how to drive. Rose, I think, secretly held a flame for a few of my friends in that totally helpless way that you get when you age out.
She wasn’t old. I am not saying that. She had her kids early and she was still a thing to see back then, but her riding off with the bad boy days were well behind her, so all she could do was watch Heart walk away with Bruise and deal with it.
Heart was a friend in a way that only an older girl can be to an eighth grader. Did we decide seventh? She advised me, protected me from Bruise’s withering, desultory abuse, and she inspired me. And she was a badass.
One day we all pile out of Bruise’s car into a pool hall in the middle of St. Robert. There are a few motorcycles out front, so me, Bruise, and Spike were ready for anything.
Well we walked in with Scratch, Heart, and T and Less. There was nothing wrong with any of them and the bikers took notice. Soon they were mumbling to each other. Then someone said something to T.
We turned on them. Bruise pulled a knife. I grabbed a cue ball. Spike pulled a cue off the wall and we turned to them. We were ready for a fight with four bikers. And it would not have been pretty.
But Heart swooped in with a few cuss words, a joke, and a playful threat, and the bikers laughed at her. With her is more like it. They nodded to us and I put my ball down. Spike chalked his cue and Bruise’s knife vanished. Heart was a force to reckon with back then. Still is today. She ended up exactly where she belonged. But we will get there.
The second time Heart dropped into my life was when I was leading the Degenerates. I had graduated and I can’t even tell you how we got there. Walleye is Heart’s little cousin, so he might have brought us. That is it I think, but when I walked in the door, I was home. She actually grabbed my face, looked me in the eye and said, “Welcome home.”
We hung out there almost exclusively. Bruise was in the Air Force and he was in training out of state. She was a single mother and lonely when we walked in and we made a life out of it. She helped hold me down and stop from floating away and she fed me a steady diet of, “You’re a badass. You’re a badass.” And I needed that.
I had a group around me ready to do anything that I mentioned, but even though I had graduated high school, I had in some strange way failed. My life was over now. How many of you can relate to that? You are a legend in high school, practically worshipped, but then you graduate and you have no reason to be there. You are old news and the next level of badasses are taking over.
For a lot of you, the next step is college or the armed services, but for kids like me it is doldrums. We have no idea what to do. I had not even thought about going to college until about halfway through the first semester of English Lit. Once Mrs. Learmann got ahold of me, it was totally obvious to me where I needed to be. But ignorance of how to get it done locked me up and then it was all over. No counselor to get me there. No help filling out papers and loans. My life was basically over and I was devastated and fighting to make sense of what to do next.
Enter Heart. Her and Bruise let me have the spare bedroom. I became his voice at the house and she slowly put me back together again in that way only Heart can. Little by little showing me there was a future by telling me over and over again that I was destined for something big. That it might take me a while, but I would find a place in the world better than cook at Pizza Hut.
She gave me hope back then. And she gave a place to lick my wounds.
Now I’m an adult. I have been writing for a while, and Prince has had the talk with us. He has told us that we can’t submit for years, and all we can do is write one book after the next and try to get better. He is nowhere near happy with our work and we needed to shut up and pound out words.
The guy has never been a good cheerleader. He is more of a drill sergeant, and he keeps a steady diet of “Shut up. You’re terrible. Keep typing.”
That is strong. I was not that bad. This is Prince and I get a lot of shit for being a dick to Artist. Now I know this is not my chapter, but fuck if I didn’t get him here. Fuck if I didn’t give him the ass kicking he needed to be writing this book right now. So yeah, I was a dick, but that is what the time called for. So fuck you, Smear Lord of Ire. Fuck you, Shade. And you’re fucking welcome.
Sorry, Heart. I know this is your chapter. I will shut up and get out of your way now. Hi by the way, we need to get together.
Anyway, Prince is being a dick and Bekah is reading everything we write, which in itself is a miracle, and she is feeding me a steady diet of “You will get there and I will be right by your side.” But no one else is reading my work. No one is talking about it. And writing is meant to be read. Words decay if they do not hit the mind. Or at least that is how it feels to the writer. It feels like all of your work is for nothing when no one is reading and talking about it.
So one day I am on Myspace and I find her. I drop a letter to her and say a few thank yous. I tell her I would love to hear from her and I notice a few things.
One, it didn’t work out with Heart and Bruise. No, nope, and never. I am not getting into their story. You guys are so nosey, I can’t even with you. Anyway they didn’t work out. They split but are still in each other’s lives for the girls. They have two beautiful daughters, too quickly becoming women, and they have to raise them together. So here they are.
Heart lives in Missouri and Bruise, I think, was in Omaha. Anyway they were far enough away not to kill each other, but just a bit down the road from their kids if they are needed. At this distance they can kinda make it work, and she is with her family now.
Well, I write her. Say some really great things. Tell her that I would love to hear from her and let it go.
But Myspace was in its final death rattle back in those days, and it is about a month before I get a frantic letter.
“I’m here! I’m here! So glad to hear from you. I missed you so much. How is it going?” She tells me about her life and a little about the kids, then she wants to hear about mine.
Well Bekah, Rayph. Tobin was not around yet. Dogs, beer, a bit about the Green Bay Packers, and back to Bekah.
She asks what I am doing and Shade dumps his purse.
He tells about all of us. He tells the whole story about the alters and how we found them, and what it is like living with it all.
She freaks out because so much makes sense now, and then she asks, “What are you doing?”
And Shade mentions the writing. He mentions it in passing and then runs. Out comes Shadow.
“Hey you bad bitch, how’s it hanging?”
“Little to the left,” I think is what she said. “What is going on? You must be Shadow. I remember your ass. You are amazing. I miss you so much. Tell me about the writing.”
Out comes Artist. She has heard this rant before. She hears all of the beautiful things that he has to say and all of the tragic things that come up and when he is done she says. “Who is going to tell me about the writing?”
Artist gets into it. It is painful. It hurts his body and his mind to tell it, but he tells it all. From the work and its content to Prince and how much of a monster he is.
“Let me talk to that mutha fucker!” she snaps. She has heard pain in the voice of Smear Lord of Ire and she wants a shot. She is a fighter from way back. She used to go dukes with her older brother. She used to beat a bitch when someone talked shit to her.
This is a hunter with a bunch of rifles. She is as comfortable on a walk way as she is in a forest with paint on her face. Turkeys, she has killed them. Bucks, she had gutted them. This chick walks the woods on her parents’ land where it is said there are mountain lions. (You guys proud of me? I didn’t say puma. Fuck.) She has never taken shit off of anyone.
She drives trucks into fields of solid mud for fun. She is well-versed on how to rebuild an engine and she is a bad bitch. She is going to defend the Artist from this ass Prince. “Where is he? Get his ass out here!”
Ten minutes. It takes ten minutes before Heart is ready to talk to Artist again. Mercifully she does not tell him, “You have to do everything Prince says.” She does not give him what everyone else has given him. In her heart she knows that he can’t hear that right now.
“How can I help?” she asks Artist.
She reads all of it. Every book, every story. She reads Liefdom, loves it. Reads the shorts, loves them. Reads Perpetual Child, loves it. Reads Chaste, and even that one she loved. She read the pages of Eastgate while they were coming out. One eight-page section at a time. When we freaked out at how long it was getting, she told us to keep working, don’t think about it, just keep writing.
She was there during Nyst. She flipped the first coin. She cried when they all died. She hated all the right people for many varied reasons. She gave us hope when we had none. She was everything that she had always been.
Heart drove a cab for a long time. Hated it. Got robbed too many times and ended up getting cut on her neck. She wasn’t hospitalized, but that is a rugged job and after the cut, she was out. She met a man while she was driving cab. They are great together and she found her calling.
She does tattoos now out of her own studio.
“Great Tattoos, Terrible Location” is her slogan. It lives up. Her studio is out back, practically in the woods. It is exactly what you would expect her studio to be. Mind blowing. Chaotic. Artistic. Beautiful. Clean. Professional. It is the kind of place where you can sit to get a tatt, look around the entire time you are sitting there, and still not see everything.
I got a few tattoos there. I got my ink well and quill there. I got my black band in honor of the Death of Katherine. I got the home row tattooed to my fingers.
She is amazing and you should go check her out.
Her slogan should be something like, “Great Tattoos, Awesome Badasses, Bad Location.”
Go see her and tell her Prince sent you. Tell her Prince says call him. He’ll talk to her for exactly ten minutes.
This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 3: The Keep.